Concerns raised as minor girl gave statements with a legal representative present (Image, Civil Groups of Kashmir)
On 18th April 2016, Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) released a further press statement in relation to a minor girl allegedly detained following allegations of sexual assault which led to protests and the deaths of 5 people in the region.
18 April 2016
Yesterday, on 17 April 2016, the legal team of JKCCS, who have been appointed as legal counsels by the family of the minor girl, at the centre of the Handwara sexual assault and killings case were informed about the release of the girl and her family from the illegal police detention. The JKCCS team decided to move to Handwara to meet with the minor girl and her parents. It was discussed with the parents of the minor girl that they will meet with the team at Handwara District Hospital. On reaching the District Hospital, the team was informed by the uncle and the mother of the minor girl that the father and the girl, who from 16 April have been relocated by the police at her maternal uncle’s home at Zachaldara, Handwara, have been stopped by the police on their way to Handwara and sent back. The police are effectively controlling the movement of the minor girl and her family.
Then in consultation with the mother and the uncle of the girl, JKCCS team decided to visit her at Zachaldara, Handwara. At around 9:30 pm the minor girl met the legal team of JKCCS and her mother for the first time after the incident of 12 April 2016. The legal team found on arriving at the residence of minor girl’s maternal uncle that four police personnel, including the Divisional Officer, Police Post Zachaldara, Masroor Ahmad were seated in the room in conversation with the minor girl and family. Following a brief conversation with the police, the team insisted on a private meeting with the family.
In the meeting, the minor girl and family re-affirmed that they wish the legal team to continue to represent them. They stated that they have effectively been kept in illegal police detention and wrongful confinement from 12 April to date. They have been intimidated, abused and kept under constant surveillance. Their phones have been confiscated at the will of the police and access and physical movement has been either completely denied or limited as per the discretion of the police. The minor girl and family have at no point sought police protection. The family and the legal team were discussing the possibility of the family relocating to another location where they could consider and plan their legal strategy moving ahead when they were interrupted by the police.
In the limited meeting that was allowed to take place the following key points emerged from the minor girl and her family:
§ The minor girl has on two occasions – in the video recorded and circulated and in the Section 164-A CrPC statement before the judicial magistrate – been pressurized to testify in a manner as directed by the police. Neither of these statements were made voluntarily.
§ From 12 April to 14 April 2016 the minor girl and family were illegally detained at the Handwara Police Station. From 11 p.m. of 14 April to the morning of 16 April 2016 the minor girl and family were illegally detained at a police personnel’s private residence at Shehlal village who was a complete stranger to the family. On 16 April 2016, the minor girl’s statement under Section164-A CrPC was recorded before the judicial magistrate at Handwara. Her father was not present in court during the recording of the statement. No lawyer was present in court accompanying her. In the courtroom, besides the judge, there were four other persons who the minor girl couldn’t identify. From the night of 16 April 2016 to this morning the family has stayed at Zachaldara under constant police surveillance and control.
Within few minutes of the meeting, the Divisional Officer, Masroor Ahmad visited the house again and asked the JKCCS team to come out for a brief chat. As it was raining outside, the JKCCS team members were asked to sit inside the car. Then without being informed the car was driven to the Police Post Zachaldara. For close to two hours, in a hostile and confrontational atmosphere, Divisional Officer of the Police Post, SHO Police Station Handwara, Ajaz Ahmad and DSP (Operations), and incharge SDPO, Baljeet Singh sought to persuade the legal team to leave the area immediately. The police team denied that the minor girl and family was in “custody” but strongly advised that she and her family not be moved from their present location. DIG, Central Kashmir Range, Ghulam Hassan Bhat, called and also took the position that while the family were not under police custody it would be advisable for the family not to be relocated. The legal team was asked to leave the area. Due to the delay caused by the police, the legal team decided to meet the family, inform them of the meeting with the police officials, and return the following morning to take the necessary steps. While the team again met briefly with the minor girl’s family at their uncle’s residence at 12 in the midnight, the team members witnessed two police personnel sitting inside the room of the girl.
From Zachaldara when the JKCCS team left in their car, it was followed all the way until the team left the Kupwara district. Perhaps this was to ensure that the team doesn’t return to the minor girl’s family.
Today, following last night’s important meeting with the minor girl, her family and the JKCCS legal team, the police have, this morning, told the family to immediately leave the area. The police have confiscated the phone of the family so as to ensure that there can be no contact between the family and legal team. The actions of the police are effectively meant to serve as a message and punishment for the minor girl and family meeting with the JKCCS legal team and deciding to enforce their legal rights. When contacted by a JKCCS representative, and asked why the family is being harassed, DIG, North Kashmir Range, Uttam Chand, challenged the right of JKCCS to question him on behalf of the family. JKCCS also contacted Nayeema Mehjoor, Chairperson of the State Commission for Women, who promised to assist in the appropriate re-location of the family to a private and safe place, away from media and police or other official interference but with unhindered access to the right of the family to lawyers.
The minor girl has sought, and requires, the time, space and privacy to be able to take part in the important investigations. Presently, every effort is being made by the police to harass and intimidate the family. There is an urgent need for the family to be re-located to a safe place, allowed unhindered access to their legal team and be provided any other support they require. The case is listed before the High Court on 20 April 2016, but the ensuing 48 hours are crucial for the minor girl and family and their safety and JKCCS is making every effort to ensure that the police intimidation is stopped. It appears the Government wants to pressurize the family to discontinue the legal struggle.
In the meantime JKCCS yesterday had formally written to the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, Director General of J&K Police, IGP Kashmir, DIG North Kashmir, Divisional Commissioner Kashmir and DC Kupwara for unhindered access of the legal counsels to the family. So far, the Government has chosen to not respond. Today, JKCCS has also sought an appointment with the IGP Kashmir to emphasize the need to immediately end the harassment of the minor girl and her family.
Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society
The following was posted several hours later…
The Handwara minor girl and her family has again been abducted by the police in the late evening and taken to an undisclosed location. We are concerned about the physical and psychological well being of the girl and her family.
One arrest has now been made in relation to the case with another person sought by police, see following link,
“Kashmir, Handwara: Search for the truth, mother of minor girl gives video interview, daughter gives statement to magistrate”
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights/WOT and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad. She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.
COORDINATION OF DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS
Kashmir: ‘More things change, more they remain the same’
Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisation is alarmed at how a demand for justice results again in killing of civilians by a trigger happy Government force in Kashmir. The alleged molestation of a 16 year old girl on April 12th by a personnel of 21 RR posted in Handwara, and resultant protests saw abduction and illegal incarceration by Police of the girl, her aunt and father, the killing of five persons in three days of protests, including a woman working in her kitchen garden, followed by strict imposition of S 144 of RPC , and are a grim reminder that ‘more things change more they remain the same’ in Kashmir. Killings are a direct outcome of treating Kashmiris, as people devoid of any rights, including the Right to live in dignity and freedom.
CDRO wishes to remind the public that in Kashmir events follow a pattern: when allegations are leveled against the Armed Forces of the Union, the effort is to damn the aggrieved, for acting at behest of “separatists”, “jihadists” and “Pakistan’s ISI”, and/or to malign the Indian forces. When protests erupt to demand justice, forces open fire to shoot to kill by aiming fire on head and body. Doctors at Sher i Kashmir Institute of Medical Science, Srinagar where injured and the dead were brought, were aghast at the bullet being fired at vital parts; either head or stomach, and pellet injuries to the eyes. Deliberate use of guns to kill gets justified by claiming that it was done in self-defense as crowd was pelting stones. The disproportionate use of force on unarmed civilians, makes it abundantly clear that in Kashmir guns are preferred against civilians. Handwara was no different.
While three persons Muhammad Iqbal (24), Nayem Qadir Bhat (22) and Raja Begum (70) were killed on 12th April, Jahangir Ahmad Wani was killed at Drugmulla, Kupwara on 13th April and Arif Hassan Dar was shot dead on 14th April at Natnusa village of Kupwara. The fact that a case of molestation of a minor took a bloody turn resulting in killing of five persons and grievous injuries to 40 others is evidence of the oppressive conditions on the ground, where Armed Forces of the Union and the J&K Police are empowered to virtually take away lives, at will. The Police claim that 125 of their personnel suffered injuries, yet none of the injuries was severe enough for hospitalization, unlike the civilians who suffered grievously. In keeping with knee jerk reaction, the Central Government promptly announced dispatching 3600 more troops.
Standard Operations Procedure (SOPs) in Kashmir appears to be to kill first and explain it away later. Recently Indian authorities and corporate media were agog with simulated outrage over lathi charge on the non-local students at NIT Srinagar campus by the Police. However, when it came to killing of Kashmiris, the Government extended support to the Army and Police, claiming they had come under attack and reacted in “self-defense”. That heavily armed forces, confronting unarmed civilian protestors shouting slogans and at worse pelting stones, opened fire on them and killed and injured civilians was of less consequence than protecting the reputation of Government forces.
What is also important to note is that disclosing the identity of the minor girl including exposing her face, while she was a captive of the Police, is a crime punishable under S 228(A) [Disclosure of Identity of the victim…], apart from the crime of holding a female minor in illegal “protective” captivity. Civil administration was nowhere in sight for five days. In Kashmir the Armed Forces and the Police are their own masters accountable to no one.
Equally alarming was the virtual curfew imposed across large parts of Kashmir. And with internet blocked, uncorroborated news had free play. Locals were coerced into remaining indoors. In Handwara lawyers representing the mother were prevented from meeting her, and for days the girl, her aunt and father were dis-allowed to get in touch with anyone. Media was barred entry. JK Coalition of Civil Society was physically prevented from holding a press conference. Elsewhere in different parts of Kashmir concertina wires, drop gates, check-posts and more troops made their presence felt. The abduction of a minor girl keeping her incommunicado raise not just questions about the arbitrary powers being exercised by the Police, but the killing shows how far Government Forces can go to protect their arbitrary rule.
While we welcome the J&K High Court’s order asking the police to explain under which law they had kept the minor, her aunt and father in their “protective” captivity, and barred the disclosure of her statement to the media, which they directed that it be recorded before the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Handwara. In violation of the High Court order the contents of the statement were again leaked to the media. The girl and her family have now been placed under virtual house arrest at a relative’s house and Police is refusing them to return home, instead coercing them to re-locate elsehere. On 17th April the girl met her mother as well as her lawyers from JKCCS. A statement released by JKCCS on 18th April says the following:
In the limited meeting that was allowed to take place the following key points emerged from the minor girl and her family:
§ The minor girl has on two occasions – in the video recorded and circulated and in the Section 164-A CrPC statement before the judicial magistrate – been pressurized to testify in a manner as directed by the police. Neither of these statements were made voluntarily. § From 12 April to 14 April 2016 the minor girl and family were illegally detained at the Handwara Police Station. From 11 p.m. of 14 April to the morning of 16 April 2016 the minor girl and family were illegally detained at a police personnel’s private residence at Shehlal village who was a complete stranger to the family. On 16 April 2016, the minor girl’s statement under Section164-A CrPC was recorded before the judicial magistrate at Handwara. Her father was not present in court during the recording of the statement. No lawyer was present in court accompanying her. In the courtroom, besides the judge, there were four other persons who the minor girl couldn’t identify. From the night of 16 April 2016 to this morning the family has stayed at Zachaldara under constant police surveillance and control.
The extraordinary lengths to which Police go to keep the girl and her family sequestered under police guard raises concerns over the safety of the family,in particular the girl, but also the extent of illegal power that has come to be vested in Police or arrogated by them.
This incident comes at a time when there is no political resolution in sight over Kashmir dispute, and killing of civilians by Government forces remains a recurring phenomena. By remaining mute today, as was done in the past, we only acquiesce in the policy of military suppression and the continued demoralization of the people. The nightmare Kashmiris continue to face will end only when we in India mount a campaign for abolishing legal immunity provided to the armed forces of the union and push for democratically ascertaining the will of the peoples of Jammu and Kashmir.
CDRO reiterates its demand for abolishing legal immunity provided to the Armed Force of the Union and the J&K Police, and urges that the long pending dispute be resolved democratically.
C. Chandrasekhar (CLC, Andhra Pradesh), Asish Gupta (PUDR, Delhi), Pritpal Singh (AFDR, Punjab), Phulendro Konsam (COHR, Manipur) and Tapas Chakraborty (APDR, West Bengal) (Coordinators of CDRO).
————- Constituent Organisations:Association for Democratic Rights (AFDR), Punjab; Association for Protection of Democratic Rights APDR), West Bengal; Bandi Mukti Morcha (BMC), West Bengal; Campaign for Peace & Democracy in Manipur (CPDM), Delhi; Civil Liberties Committee (CLC), Andhra Pradesh; Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR), Mumbai; Coordination for Human Rights (COHR), Manipur; Human Rights Forum (HRF), Andhra Pradesh; Jharkhand Council for Democratic Rights (JCDR), Jharkhand; Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti (MASS), Assam; Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR); Organisation for Protection of Democratic Rights (OPDR), Andhra Pradesh; Peoples’ Committee for Human Rights (PCHR), Jammu and Kashmir; Peoples Democratic Forum (PDF), Karnataka; Peoples Union For Democratic Rights (PUDR), Delhi; Peoples Union for Civil Rights (PUCR), Haryana, Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR),Tamilnadu.
Thank-you very much for sharing your press statement, updating me and providing additional information. The case of the minor girl is deeply disturbing on a number of aspects. Well done on your work on highlighting alleged human rights violations. It seems the more inquiries made the more the girl is controlled and denied basic rights.I heard a person has been arrested and authorities are looking for a second person. I am also concerned about his rights. We don’t know whether he is implicated or not due to conflicting statements obtained under alleged pressure, fair judicial process must be carried out.